Florida teacher says the profession is no longer sustainable: 'Who wants to be poor by choice?'

Rachel Bardes, a former Spanish teacher in Texas, says she is "fearful" about where the teaching profession is headed. (Photo Illustration: Quinn Lemmers)
Rachel Bardes, a former Spanish teacher in Texas, says she is "fearful" about where the teaching profession is headed. (Photo Illustration: Quinn Lemmers)

Rachel Bardes doesn’t have the words to capture all of her feelings about leaving the teaching profession. The Texas native spent 16 years teaching Spanish across 10 school districts, in three states, before deciding to walk away this year.

“The nonsense was outweighing the reward more and more every year,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And this last one, I thought, ‘I don't want to burn out on this.’ I wanted to end on a high note. [I feel] relief, discouragement, anger. Every emotion. It’s really sad.”

Thoughts of leaving, Bardes says, began to enter her mind after a decade in the classroom — but her concern for students compelled her to stay for an additional six years. “I love the kids. ... All teachers will tell you that’s what keeps them in there,” she says. “We don’t do it for the money.”

On top of low pay and long hours, Bardes says she became fed up with how standardized tests undercut teachers’ autonomy. “It’s overcomplicating a profession that we went to school for,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My major was Spanish. I won the award for my major at my university, and I also had to take classes on how to be a teacher. I’m an expert. ... Let me teach.”

Now volunteering with teacher unions in Florida (where she spent the majority of her career) to fight for better working conditions — Bardes is one of more than 50 teachers who decided to share their story of leaving the field with Yahoo Lifestyle. Her answers, some of which have been edited for clarity, are below.

Location: Orange County, Fla.

Subject: Spanish, beginner level to advanced, grades 5-12

Years teaching: 16

Average hours worked per week: 50-60

Salary: Between $40,000-$49,000

Was it enough to cover expenses? Sometimes

What benefits did you have? Health care, some sick days. Depending on the school, retirement was or was not offered, as well as raises.

What words best describe how you feel about leaving?

Relief, guilt, anger. Although I am glad to have left, I walked away a little defeated. I was a really good teacher and I feel like I am failing my community by not being a role model to future groups of kids. Teachers positively impact our youth, and I felt honored to be a part of that.

Did you ever feel like your mental or physical health was in jeopardy as a teacher?

All the time. Mostly, I felt the mental/emotional distress that teaching caused me. I care a lot and when each year became increasingly harder — the pressure from administrators, lack of support from parents, and ever-changing standards and duties that we were expected to learn and do daily — I would lose sleep and get upset (both at work and at home) more frequently.

What contributed most to your decision to leave education (low wages, lack of resources, feeling unsafe, feeling overburdened, pressure from parents, lack of administrative support)?

All of these. And I will also say lack of respect from kids, parents, administrators and society. I’m sad and fearful. I’m sad that the art and science of teaching is being viewed as less noble these days. When I majored in education in 2001, it was a different time. Now it’s a far less desirable major and the young people who would be wonderful educators are no longer entering the field. This makes me afraid for our future and adds to the threat that’s already looming over public education in our country.

What job do you plan to take next (or are you doing currently)?

I would like to work for the local teachers union someday. I was the union representative for my school and have been quite active in meetings, marches and rallies that defend teachers and public education.

What will you miss the most about being a teacher?

I will miss having that connection with my middle schoolers and high schoolers. I felt like I was a role model — especially to the girls — and a strong mentor/teacher to my younger, newer colleagues. I will miss not having that same sense of purpose.

What do you think needs to be done to fix this problem?

No one wants to be a teacher anymore. ... We’ve got to make the field of teaching much more appealing to our young people. We have to raise salaries because who will choose that over all these other professions they could get into? Who wants to be poor by choice? I don’t think anybody. I mean, it never was a high-paying field, but it was doable. It was sustainable — and it’s not anymore. It’s not what it used to be. We need to bring back respect to the field of teaching.

If you’re a teacher who wants to share your story, send an email to teachersincrisis@yahoo.com

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